A Brief History of Emmanuel
Emmanuel Church had its beginnings in the mid-nineteenth century as “house church,” made up of service workers and tradespeople who were the backbone of the local economy in Newport worshiping together in some of the big Newport mansions where many worked. Several members of Historic Trinity created a trust that took title to the land bordered by Spring, Dearborn, and South Baptist Streets, and Natalie Bayard Brown provided for the construction of the current Ralph Adams Cram stone church and community center, opened in 1902 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1996. Emmanuel Church was originally created as “Emmanuel Free Church,” meaning that anyone could attend, even those who could not afford to buy or rent a pew, the way other churches at the time were funded. While Emmanuel’s name was ultimately shortened to eliminate the Free designation, the bylaws remain clear that Emmanuel would be supported by free will offerings, or pledges, rather than the purchase or rental of worship space by worshipers. For that reason, as well as its reputation for hospitality and welcome throughout the local, tourist, and military communities, Emmanuel has always been known, and has known itself, as the Church of the People.
Emmanuel’s whole form and shape followed its original purpose as a free church — open to all regardless of socio-economic status — with large, acoustically significant indoor spaces our four-season New England climate. For a community that was less likely to have the performance or large gathering spaces at home that many of the Newport mansions built around the same time had, Emmanuel’s community center includes a recital hall with a proscenium stage, a gymnasium, a large meeting room with Craftsman skylight separated by a folding panel and glass wall from the recital hall, and a spacious nave, or sanctuary space, with a separate chapel. These spaces have been home over the years to resident scout troops, youth community service organizations, community theater, community dinners and meetings, public school meetings and fundraisers, concerts, and ecumenical and interfaith programs.